Platinum’s Lesson for Lithium-Ion Batteries – by David Fickling (Bloomberg News – September 26, 2017)

Half a century ago, the commodities industry was in a flap about whether new, less-polluting automotive technologies would cause the world to run out of rare metals.

It wasn’t about electric batteries, but catalytic converters. Introduced in the mid-1970s in the U.S. to remove carbon monoxide and toxic hydrocarbons from car exhausts, their most important ingredients were some of the rarest elements on earth: platinum and palladium.

The so-called platinum group metals occur in large quantities in only four places. Then and now, about 90 percent of output comes from what were then apartheid South Africa and the Soviet Union. With technology moving toward widespread adoption of catalytic converters in the late 1960s, metallurgists began to worry supply would simply be insufficient.

Dealer prices of platinum, which had run as low as $98 an ounce in 1964, hit $230 an ounce by 1967, and then $300 an ounce the following year; palladium rose from $24 an ounce to $56 an ounce over the same period.

Amid fears of a squeeze, London-based metals refiner Johnson Matthey Plc was a voice of calm. There was no need for concern, it told a 1969 conference in New York: In South Africa alone, underground reserves were sufficient to produce 200 million ounces over the next 30 years, equivalent to about 12 times all platinum in circulation at that point.

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